Tag Archives: Interview

Interview with Shelli Johannes, author of UNTRACEABLE + GIVEAWAY!

30 Nov

by Susan Dennard

You might have seen my book review for Untraceable on Sunday. If not, read it. This book is impressive–and its author, Shelli Johannes, is quite possibly even more impressive.

Why do I have such glowing praise for Shelli? Because she’s done something a lot of us are too scared to do: she has indie-published her debut novel.

But more importantly than that, Shelli has indie-published it right. She has approached it as a professional author who knows the industry, knows what readers want, and knows how to tell a damn good story.

If you want to hear more about her amazing and empowering journey, I suggest reading her blog series on it (which begins here). I was lucky enough to get an interview with Shelli about her publication process, and all I can say is: WOW. She is an inspiration to us all.

When you started writing Untraceable, what was the inspiration behind it?  A dream? A musical clip? Plain, old-fashioned brainstorming?

My husband came home one day from being in the remote woods for the weekend and said, “I was so far out–a terrorist camp could set up there and no one would ever know.”

The story started out called Grace Under Fire. And it was about terrorist cells in the wilderness (hides face from embarrassment). Years later, I got rid of the terrorist camp but kept Grace and the wilderness.

It actually came in the quarterfinals in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award of 2009. 1 of only 7 thrillers to make the list.

Wow–I did not know that about the Breakthrough Award! (Can’t say I’m surprised either ;)) And what a COOL way for a story to start…mine are always lame dreams, so I’m totally jealous.

What was the biggest challenge for you while writing UNTRACEABLE? 

Editing it. Back in 09, I remember agents HATING the terrorist angle but loving Grace and the overall setting (go figure :)) so I had to go back to the drawing board and rewrite the entire plot from scratch. I did that more than once. But that time was the hardest.

You’re taking a different, unique path for getting your book out there, and you’re really showing other writers how self-publish in a professional, and reader-focused manner. It’s obvious you care about your readers more than making some quick cash. When and why did you decide to indie-publish?

For a few reasons:

  1. I was tired of people telling me a contemporary thriller would not sell well to teens.
  2. I wanted to see if I could do it on my own and learn more about publishing process in general.
  3. I thought it would be fun to create my own thing my own way.

Because I was scared everyone would think I suck, I decided to blog about the process openly – the ups and the downs to see if I could help others decide if indie pubbing was right for them.

I also hear so much about the stigma of indie/self pubbing. I wanted to break through that barrier and create a high quality product I was proud of and show people that you can do it the right way.

Yeah, I think that stigma is starting to fade as more and more writers with high-quality stories take that route. All I can say is: GOOD FOR YOU! For having the courage and the determination to do this the “right way”.

Is there anything that, in hindsight, you wish you had done differently with UNTRACEABLE–either in the writing or publication process?

I’m having so much fun I wish I had done this a long time ago. I wish I had skipped all the unnecessary anxiety. But I believe everything happens for a reason and I am where I am supposed to be.

Too true–I’m a firm believer of that as well. What’s your next writing project? And do you think you’ll continue on the self-publication path with it?

I have a special edition of Untraceable coming out in Jan/Feb with a different ending. And I am putting out Grace 2 – called Uncontrollable early next summer.

Beyond that – I’m not sure. I have manuscripts that have almost been bought on my shelf. Who knows maybe I’ll pull another one out.

But I am writing a WIP that I would like to get an agent for down the road. I love the traditional pubbing process so I hope to do both someday when I am ready to jump back in the pit.

I think it’s so awesome that you’re interested in both approaches and that you want to try to tackle both. I would love to as well…one day…when I’m not so lazy.;) Honestly, though, writing all these books and self-promoting–it must take a lot of perseverance and hard work. What’s a typical writing day for you? 

I drop off my daughter at school around 8 and then hang with my son until I drop him off at preschool at 9. I spend about an hour on the Internet with emails, twitter, Facebook, catching up on blogs etc. I usually write from about 10-12ish. Then I catch up on emails again before I get my son at 1.

But this is not how it is all the time. Especially not right now.

Right now, I imagine your life is wrapped up in UNTRACEABLE promotion. In your spare time, though, what are you reading?

Just finished The Pledge by Kimberly Derting and Fracture by Megan Miranda.

And any final words of advice or inspiration? 

Don’t give up. Let go of you ego. And follow your heart.

Leave a comment below for a chance to win not only an ebook of Untraceable, but also a copy of Escape Velocity and an ARC of Promise the Night.

It’s open internationally, and we’ll announce our giveaway winner on FRIDAY! ALONG WITH OUR BIG NEWS!

And Monday’s giveaway winner (for a copy of PRETTY BONES) is

Nicole Steinhaus!

Email us at letthewordsflowblog (at) gmail (d0t) com with your mailing address!


Interview with Kiki Hamilton, author of THE FAERIE RING

3 Oct

by Susan Dennard

Guys, I am SO incredibly excited to be able to share this interview with you. Kiki gives some fantastic, thought-provoking answers, and…well…I haven’t exactly hidden the fact that I’m totally fangirling over her novel, The Faerie Ring.

If you want to read my review of this fantastic addition to YA fantasy, head here. Otherwise, onwards to the interview!

So, Kiki, when you started writing THE FAERIE RING, which came first for you: the characters or the plot?

The characters came to me first. Tiki was there and I knew she was a pickpocket. After she stole the Queen’s ring I suddenly thought – what if somebody else wanted the ring? And that’s when the faeries showed up.

Wow, I had the same experience with my own characters–they came first, and then I built in the plot. Very cool. When you sat down to write the novel, what was the biggest challenge for you?

To be honest, there wasn’t a hard part. The story just fell out of my head onto the page and I had to type as fast as I could to keep up!!!! However, I’ve had hard parts in other stories and there are a couple of things I do: 1) keep writing and see if I can get the momentum going again and figure I’ll fix any problems in revision. 2) Think up the worst possible thing that can happen to my main character and throw it in there, or 3) figure out where I got stuck – sometimes plots will take a wrong turn and if you go back and eliminate a scene, you can get things moving again.

Um, okay, I’m officially jealous. My first drafts are like giving birth…for 30+ days straight.  Once you had a finished book, what was your journey to publication like?

I think my experience has been pretty typical. THE FAERIE RING was actually my second book. An agent had requested a partial of my first book and I wrote TFR while I waited for her response. She asked for a revision on my first book and I mentioned I’d written a second book so she said send both back. At that point, (November 2008) the agent (Kate Schafer Testerman) offered to represent me and she went out first with THE FAERIE RING. We got close several times but it took about nine months to find the *right* editor at Tor.

And what a great fit it was! The end product for THE FAERIE RING was fantastic!  Now, as an eager fangirl, I have to know: What’s your next writing project?

I just finished writing a YA contemporary called THE LAST DANCE. That one just fell out of my head onto the page too. So much fun to write! I will probably write book 3 of THE FAERIE RING series this winter and I’m halfway through a historical kind-of steampunk fantasy right now.

Historical steampunk. Clearly you and I were meant to hang out at some point (I don’t mean that in a creepy fan-stalker way…er…not completely, at least). As a fellow historical/steampunk/fantasy writer, I am very curious what a typical writing day looks like for you?

It varies. I have to spend a lot more time with marketing now, so that takes up an enormous chunk of my day. Also, I’m a mom to a teenage girl so I spend a lot of time with her. Plus the cooking ,cleaning, laundry business. Yuk. But I write something almost every day – seven days a week. I do that instead of watch TV.

ME TOO! No TV, and 7 days a week of work. (I stand by my hanging-out declaration!) Do you have a critique partner or beta reader?

Yes, I have a couple of people who I trade manuscripts with.

As do most professionals, I think. And, when do you decide your book is ready for your agent’s/editor’s eyes?

It depends on the feedback I get from my crit partners. If their suggestions aren’t huge, then I know I’m close.

That’s a pretty good approach, methinks. So, now that I’ve finished THE FAERIE RING and am searching for my next read, I have to know: what are YOU reading?

I’m reading an ARC of Laini Taylor’s DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE.

ACK! That’s at the top of my TBR list! (These similarities are uncanny, Kiki. ;)) Now, before we wrap this interview up, do you have any final words of advice or inspiration?

If writing is your dream than you can never give up. The industry is VERY competitive and you have to go into it knowing that rejection is not personal. It will take time to sell your book. You might not sell your first book. (I didn’t.) One editor / agent will love a story and the next won’t. It’s subjective. But stick to it and write for the love of telling a story. There’s a lot to learn about writing and you will be well-served to take classes, join critique groups and attend writing conferences. Always be open to revising to improve the story and never give up!!

Ain’t that the truth? Never give up, never surrender! (Any Galaxy Quest fans out there? Anyone, anyone?)

Thank you so much, Kiki, for taking the time out of your busy, laundry/cooking/writing-filled life ( 😉 ) to answer my questions, and I can’t wait to more of your books in stores. (Um, and more Rieker–can you possibly give me some more of him too?)

AND NOW, to announce our giveaway winners…

Yeah, you read that right. I said winnerS, plural. There was such an overwhelming response to our giveaway last Friday, we decided to hand out TWO copies of The Faerie Ring. Because we had several people with the same name leave comments, we’ve put the date and comment time in parentheses.

And the winners are:

Amity (10/2 4:10 PM)


Victoria (9/30 8:04 AM)

Thanks to everyone who participated, and will the winners please email susan (at) susandennard (dot) com with their mailing addresses.


Kiki Hamilton is the debut author of The Faerie Ring (Tor Teen, 2011), and you can find out more about her on her blog, twitter, or facebook.

Susan Dennard is a writer, reader, lover of animals, and eater of cookies. She is repped by Sara Kendall of NCLit, and her debut, SOMETHING STRANGE AND DEADLY, will be available from Harper Children’s in 2012. You can learn more about her on her blog or twitter.

Interview with Tara Hudson, author of HEREAFTER

4 Jul

by Susan Dennard

You all may recall my gushing recommendation of Tara Hudson’s Hereafter a few weeks back. Well, I am now absolutely ecstatic to share my recent interview with her!

Born and raised in Oklahoma, Tara Hudson graduated with a degree in law, mostly because she believed all the horror stories about English majors and their careers in the food-service industry. Luckily, she soon remembered how much she loved telling ghost stories, particularly to her girlfriends who liked visiting abandoned cemeteries as much as she did. Tara currently lives in Oklahoma with her husband, son, and a menagerie of ill-behaved pets.

Let’s get started, shall we?

So, Tara, when did you first start writing HEREAFTER? Was there any sort of inspiring moment behind it (like dreams of sparkly vampires—ha!)?

I actually remember the exact date I started writing HEREAFTER – April 14, 2009 – because I still have the email that I sent my best girlfriends, asking them to read the first chapter. But my inspiring moment, or event, happened in 2000, when I drew “first straw” to present a short story in my college Fiction Writing Workshop. I always had a fascination with old cemeteries (their history, their eerie sense of watchfulness), so I wrote a story about the type of person who might wake up in one. That early story haunted me, and almost ten years later, it grew into HEREAFTER.

Wow! That’s…impressive–I love that it’s been an idea boiling in your mind for so long. And I gotta say, you pull of the cemetery-creep-factor really well! When you set out to actually write it, were you a plotter or pantster?

I was a plotter, especially for HEREAFTER. I wrote the entire original manuscript based off of an outline, that set out a chapter-by-chapter sequence of events. But with ARISE, the second book in the Hereafter Trilogy, I totally pants-ed it. And you know what? The spontaneity worked, because I think ARISE blows HEREAFTER out of the water!

GASP! Oh my gosh, Tara, now you’ve got me drooling for ARISE. If the author thinks it’s great, it must be fan-freaking-tab-ulous! Plus, how awesome is that title–ARISE!? Now, tell us about your agent. Who is she and how did you win her heart?

My agent is the fantastic Catherine Drayton of InkWell Management. She was my dream agent – she represents Markus Zusak and Becca Fitzpatrick, for pete’s sake! – and I didn’t think I had a snowball’s chance of landing representation with her. But she read my entire manuscript over the course of one weekend and liked it. She didn’t offer me representation right away because she wanted me to do some revising. Lucky for me, only two days after I started revisions, Catherine received a call from HarperCollins looking for something along the same lines as HEREAFTER. With my permission, Catherine pitched my manuscript and Harper loved it. Of course, I wasn’t surprised when my new editor – the equally legendary Barbara Lalicki – wanted the exact same revisions Catherine had suggested!

Wow. My jaw is kinda on the floor with that story… HEREAFTER is (as I have told everyone) amazing, but to hear the concept was so high that editors wanted it just like that… Well, go Tara! So now that you’re all published (wee!), what are you working on now?

Right now, I’m winding down revisions for ARISE and starting my outline for ELEGY, the final book in the Hereafter Trilogy. I’m also vacillating between two new projects – another YA paranormal and a YA fantasy – both of which I kind of love.

Awesome! I can’t lie that I’m really excited to hear you’re working on new projects–it’s my purely selfish desire to read them!! Finally, do you have any big words of writerly advice?

You can do this.

I get how that might sound trite, or like something your mother would say. But when I was writing HEREAFTER, I had a really demanding day job. Then, after I sold HEREAFTER and began revising it, I still had that day job as well as a brand new pregnancy. Then, after HEREAFTER was finished and I was under an intense deadline to write ARISE, I had the intense day job and a brand new baby.

And you know what? I did it. With all those life responsibilities, I wrote two books of which I’m extremely proud. So whatever you’re struggling with while trying to write or query or submit or revise, you CAN do this, mostly because you love it that much.

We can do it! I’ve been terrified of tackling my own book 2, and I gotta say: you’ve made me feel better, Tara. This is wonderful advice and so, so true.

Thank you for taking the time out of your very busy life to answer my questions, and I can’t wait to see your other books in stores. (No seriously, if there’s anyway you can hook me up with an ARC for ARISE… ::nudge, nudge::)

Now, for those of you Americans out there, Happy Fourth of July! Go out and read Hereafter–you won’t regret it!


You can learn more about Tara Hudson on her website , blog, or twitter!

Susan Dennard is a writer, reader, lover of animals, and eater of cookies. She is repped by Sara Kendall of NCLit, and her debut, SOMETHING STRANGE AND DEADLY, will be available from Harper Children’s in 2012. You can learn more about her on her blog or twitter.

Plain Kate / Erin Bow Blog Tour: Interview and Plain Kate Giveaway!

19 Sep

by Vanessa Di Gregorio


As you all probably know, I absolutely loved Erin Bow’s YA novel, Plain Kate (which again, I highly recommend!).

Today, we’re the third stop in Erin Bow’s blog tour – and we even have a copy of Plain Kate to giveaway, courtesy of Scholastic Canada.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Erin Bow, and I must say, I am INCREDIBLY excited to share her answers with you! For those of you who don’t know her, Erin Bow is the author of two books of poetry and a memoir (published under her maiden name, Erin Noteboom) – and Plain Kate is her first novel. She also studied particle physics and worked briefly at CERN (European Centre for Nuclear Research), but left in order to pursue her passion for writing. And she’s  married to YA novelist James Bow.

For those who aren’t familiar with Plain Kate (or just need a refresher), here’s the description from Goodreads:

Plain Kate lives in a world of superstitions and curses, where a song can heal a wound and a shadow can work deep magic. As the wood-carver’s daughter, Kate held a carving knife before a spoon, and her wooden talismans are so fine that some even call her “witch-blade”: a dangerous nickname in a country where witches are hunted and burned in the square.

For Kate and her village have fallen on hard times. Kate’s father has died, leaving her alone in the world. And a mysterious fog now covers the countryside, ruining crops and spreading fear of hunger and sickness. The townspeople are looking for someone to blame, and their eyes have fallen on Kate.

Enter Linay, a stranger with a proposition: In exchange for her shadow, he’ll give Kate the means to escape the angry town, and what’s more, he’ll grant her heart’s wish. It’s a chance for her to start over, to find a home, a family, a place to belong. But Kate soon realizes she can’t live shadowless forever — and that Linay’s designs are darker than she ever dreamed.

If you want to know more about Plain Kate, check out my review for it here. And now, onto the interview!


Vanessa Hi Erin! Thanks so much for joining us. Plain Kate, your first novel, draws a lot from Russian folklore. Does it draw from any one in particular? What was it about Russian folklore that inspired you to write Plain Kate?

Erin Bow: Right before the beginning of PLAIN KATE came to me, I read this huge collection of Russian fairy tales.  I love fairy tales and I thought I knew them, but the Russian ones blew me away.   They’re full of white nights and strange transformations, villains that read as tragic heros, doomed heros that still stand tall.  When I read the Grimm fairy tales, they often seem familiar, as if you’ve heard them or part of them, as if you’ve been to that Kingdom.  The Russian tales aren’t like that.  They come from just over the edge of the map; they are wilder and darker.

There’s no one tale being retold in Plain Kate.  In fact the only thing explicitly Russian in the final draft is a rusalka — a sort of vampiric ghost — and the setting is more Eastern European than anything.  Still,  I hope I got some of that wildness and darkness, some of that sad triumph.

V: It took you six years to write Plain Kate. Did the story change drastically over time?

EB: Oh, yes. I remember having vague ideas about Linay going to see a king to have a wish granted, and Kate having to stop him with some heroic act of carving, such as making a statue of the King’s dead son. There was this bit of magic, you see, where if you could make the king cry he would grant you a wish, but he was rather mad and didn’t cry, and Linay needed Kate’s shadow to weave into his violin to make his music sad, but Kate’s carving trumped that by getting at the root of the king’s madness: grief.

Well.  It’s not a bad story, but you can see that I didn’t exactly have it flushed out.  And in the end, none of that turned out to be right: there was no King, and it was Linay that was mad.  This is often the way with me: I have only the vaguest notion of where I’m going, and I usually turn out to be wrong.

Even in this iteration of the story – the Roamers, the fog, the rusalka, the journey to Lov — I went through four different versions of the ending before settling on this one.  In fact I sold this book to Scholastic with a radically different ending.  Thank heavens my editor called me out on it.

V: You’ve said on your site that of all writing, you like poetry and children’s stories best; that, “they have in common mindfulness about the magic of language”. Why do you think most stories for adults lack that magic of language?

EB: As a reader, I like YA best, but I also do read a lot of literary fiction for adults.  I am often disappointed with it in a particular way.

If a piece of writing is magic, is a spell, then too much literary fiction is a spell that does nothing.  It gives us exquisite characters, wonderful prose — and then no story.  You get to the end of a book and think: that was beautiful, but what was the point of it?  The individual words have  this tremendous power but the spell as a whole just fizzles away.

In a YA book you can’t get away with that.  Young readers know all about potential and many secretly dread that growing up means fizzling away.   So they won’t put up with it in their books.  A YA novel will, therefore, never be a spell that does nothing.   The spell may not come off, it may blow up in the author’s face, but it won’t do nothing.

I also think young readers — along with poetry readers — are more willing to fall under the spell of a book than the average adult reader.  Think about it:  is there any book we love like the books we love as children?

V: What are some of your favourite children’s stories?

EB: For children — as opposed to tweens and teens — I love E.B. White’s stuff.  Trumpet of the Swan was my favourite book when I was eight or ten; it’s about a mute trumpeter swan named Louis (that went right over my head) whose father steals him an actual trumpet.  Now I like Charlotte’s Web better.  It’s got one of the great opening lines in fiction:  “What’s Pa going with that axe?”

I could name many more books, but E.B. WHite has a special place in my heart.  I loved him as a kid, and I still love him now.   He tells wonderful, deeply human and humane stories with his animal characters.   Yet he doesn’t write down to kids the way, say, C.S. Lewis sometimes did. As a kid, you just know it’s a magical, wonderful story.  As an adult you can read it aloud and marvel at the rhythmic beauty of the sentences.

V: Taggle was my favourite character in Plain Kate; he made me laugh, he made me cry, and he had a wonderful personality. How did his character come to be? Was he your favourite character to write?

EB: From the moment I wrote the first sentence, I knew PLAIN KATE contained a talking cat. I really don’t know where characters come from; they seem to be gifts from some great giver.

Taggle got away from me, though.  He was meant to be a sidekick, but he grabbed himself a character arc, and made a pretty good bid at being the hero.  There’s a scene in the middle where he tells Kate “I can’t cry,” and then cries, that made me cry too:  I could suddenly see all the possibilities for where he was heading.

And, yes, Taggle was my favourite character to write.  He’s so honest, and everything he does is so outsized.   He was break from writing the small, subtle reactions of dear Kate, the hidden ones of Linay.  And his body language was fun to do — I got to spend time watching cats and consider it part of my job.

V: Who was the most difficult character to write, and why?

EB: Kate herself was the hardest to write, because  when she feels things strongly — particularly if she’s angry or afraid — she shuts down.  The more she feels, the less she shows.  That’s tricky to portray on the page.   Just when your editor wants you to ramp things up, the character wants to harden herself away.  Then the editor writes “but what is she feeling?” in the margin, and you want to say, “she doesn’t know, and if she did she wouldn’t tell you.”  But you have to find a way to show it anyway.

V: What are you reading right now?

EB: I am reading NICKLE AND DIMED, a non-fiction book about living on near-minimum wage.  I want to read STARCROSSED or THE REPLACEMENT or MOCKINGJAY next!

V: Last question! What are you working on now? Can you share a bit?

EB: I’ve been telling everyone on the internet about SORROW’S KNOT, my work in progress that’s almost done.  Would you like to hear about THE TELEPORTATION OF GILBERT PEREZ instead?  I’m just getting started on it.  Here’s the first page.

On October 24, 1593, a young soldier named Gilbert Perez was found wandering dazed in the Plaza Mayor in Mexico City. On being told where he was, he insisted that he had just been on sentry duty in the governor’s palace in Manila ― and indeed he was uniform of the Philippine regiment — and offered the news that the governor had just been murdered.
He was arrested for desertion and on suspicion of witchcraft.
It’s in the history books.  Look it up.
About all that’s left of me — of the boy who staggered beside the ruins of the serpent wall  in the blinding sun, covered in blood, clutching his head – is the boots.  They just don’t make boots like they used to.  These days it’s all steel reinforced toes and orthopediac arch support.  Give me cross-bound leather any day.  And dye it red.
Blue jeans, now, blue jeans I’ll take.
And the name, Gil.  I’ve tried to hold onto that.

(It really is in the history books.  Look it up.)

V: I definitely will be looking that up in the history books! Thanks so much, Erin!


Giveaway Details:

Want to win a copy of Plain Kate? Here’s the scoop:

Contest is open to Canadian residents only (sorry all you non-Canucks!), and will be shipped directly from the publisher (much ❤ to Scholastic!).

To enter, all you need to do is leave a comment with your thoughts on the interview.

For extra entries, you can do any (or all!) of the following:

+1 for following LTWF on Twitter (add your twitter name to your comment so I know you’re following)
+2 for commenting on my review of Plain Kate
+1 for following Erin Bow (@erinbowbooks) on Twitter (let us know if you do)
+1 for following Scholastic Canada (@scholasticCDA) on Twitter (let us know if you do)
+1 for being a fan of LTWF on Facebook
+2 for following this blog – (if you don’t, just subscribe to us with your email!)
+1 for sharing this contest on Twitter – (please provide the link of your tweet in the comments)
+2 for sharing this contest on your blog – just be sure to leave a link (so that we know who you are, and how you’re sharing it!)

There are 12 entries in total. Don’t forget to leave a comment with your thoughts on the interview, otherwise your extra entries won’t count. And don’t forget to add your email so that we can contact you!

The contest ends at noon EST on Saturday, October 2nd. The winner will be picked using random.org, and will be announced on Sunday, October 3rd.


Blog Tour details:

In case you’re interested in following the blog tour (which I suggest you do!), here is a list of all the stops (including past ones and those upcoming):

September 17th:

September 18th:

September 20th:

September 21st:

September 22nd:

September 23rd:

September 24th:


Vanessa is a Sales Assistant at Kate Walker & Co., a book and gift sales agency located in Toronto. She is also enrolled in a publishing program. Currently, Vanessa is working on a YA fantasy novel and a Children’s non-fiction series.

Agent Interviews: Natalie Fischer

28 Jul

As a blog fiercely dedicated to helping readers understand the inner-workings of the publishing industry, we thought it might be fun to start a new series in which we interviewed literary agents we’ve had the pleasure of working with. Some of us are signed, and some have interned with agencies, and we felt that the amount of knowledge we’ve gained through these experiences should be shared with our readership as well. As gatekeepers to the industry, agents play a vital part in getting your book published. Each agent and agency does things a little bit different, so hopefully these interviews will help you all understand what they do a little bit better, and what makes life in this industry so special! And, who knows? Maybe you’ll find an agent who could be the perfect fit for that novel you’re writing!





Introducing Natalie M. Fischer of the

Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency

Natalie was interviewed by her client, LTWF contributor Julie Eshbaugh

Natalie Fischer,literary agent

LTWF: How did you find your way to the Sandra Dijkstra agency?

Natalie Fischer:  By accident (which, funny enough, is how many of us ended up here!). When I was a sophomore in college, I randomly started searching for internship listings on our school job site, even though I knew I didn’t want to start until my Junior year, and…there it was. THE PERFECT INTERNSHIP. After freaking out over my resume and cover letter, dancing when I got an interview, and dancing/crying/jumping up and down when I was accepted for the position (starting immediately but what did that matter; you FIT opportunities to your schedule), I had my foot in the door. After graduation, I asked them to keep me in mind for any positions that opened up, which is how I became an office assistant…and later agent!

LTWF: When did you know you wanted to get into publishing?  When did you know the correct role for you was agenting?

Natalie Fischer:  I knew I wanted to go in publishing from the time I was ten years old. I THOUGHT I wanted to go into the writing side of things. After writing a few YAs, and later romance novels (one of which landed me MY agent), I made it as far as ed board at a few houses, and general consensus was: great writing, needs plot. Ouch. Until I started helping one of the former Dijkstra agents with her clients/slush one-on-one…and found a whole new world. It wasn’t until I started assisting the contracts manager at our office and fell in LOVE with negotiating that I realized where I really belonged: pitching and selling fabulous talent. Because of my own query/rejection/writing background, I have a little more insight and sympathy for writers than some other agents, and I’m also very involved editorially with my clients. I found the perfect balance for me right in the middle of both worlds!

LTWF: Which genres do you represent and how did you choose them?

Natalie Fischer:  I represent romance (all genres), children’s (PB-Teen, no thrillers), historical fiction and select memoir/non-fiction (projects that I find really unique and connect with). I “chose” these genres because they’re what I read for fun, i.e. what I know. I don’t read history books, nor am I that interested in reading them, so I don’t really know that much about what’s already out there, nor do I know who buys it. That’s my personal logic, at least, on what I represent.

LTWF: You use some unique methods, including “scouting on the internet,” to search for new clients.  Can you talk about this and give unrepresented writers some tips on how to make themselves visible to agents?

Natalie Fischer:  Everyone wants to know about the scouting! I lurk, really, and give it a better name is all…

Tips to make yourself visible: find who is making THEMSELVES visible, via blogs/twitter, and follow them. You’ll learn a lot, not only about personal taste, but publishing. Once you get up the nerve to start interacting (and please do!!! I LOVE hearing from people on twitter), make sure you have a blog of your own, with a short (oh, say, 200 word) writing sample and paragraph of your hottest project linked to your name… Lurkers/scouters such as myself WILL click on those links. Especially ones in writing forums, such as absolutewrite.com, or romancedivas.com, etc.  And for Pete’s sake, keep it professional. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot; go rant over a beer, not over twitter.

LTWF: What about your current clients made you want to sign them?

Natalie Fischer:  Their work. As absolutely amazing as each one of my clients is, their work sold me. However, I never would have even THOUGHT to sign any of them if they’d ever once displayed one ounce of non-professionalism in the query stage. I’m not saying each one followed guidelines, believe it or not; but if I called them out on it (which I did), there were no “buts” about it. They respectfully corrected suit. Which may make me sound like a hard ass, but really, I don’t remember when people don’t follow guidelines; I remember when they talk back. (Emailing to check in on an email submission…which I would have deleted for not following guidelines, also counts as talking back.)

LTWF: Finish this sentence: “I would love to see more…”

Natalie Fischer:  Romance submissions (hint hint).

LTWF: What’s currently at the top of your To Be Read pile?

Natalie Fischer:  Client or non-client? Published or un? I have four TBR piles; none is less than a foot high (except my client pile, which hovers around a constant half-foot. I keep this one moving the most rapidly. Clients get priority). Let’s see: client, a revised ms, non-client, a contest critique, published, The Help. Or Some Like it Hot. Or The Duff. Or The Good Daughter. Or… oh who am I kidding, if I ever get time, I’ll DEVOUR Some Like it Hot and move onto The Duff. (I’m horribly behind, clearly; trying to “keep current” ends up…in this range).

LTWF: And now, for a non-publishy question! What do you like to do when you’re not being an agent?

Natalie Fischer:  Is that a trick question?

I love game nights, red wine, dinner parties (which I do NOT cook for), renting movies, and sitting in the sun. And, because I think it’s also relative, I’m a Cancer and a cat person.

Favorite TV shows: Supernatural, Ghost Whisperer, House, Bones, CSI: Las Vegas, Law and Order: SVU, Cake Boss, Family Guy, Simpsons, NCIS, Eureka (I love connecting with people on the random shows I like or used to watch.)

Please read and follow The Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency’s submission guidelines very carefully.  Natalie only accepts queries by snail mail, and asks that very specific material be included.  You can read the agency’s submission guidelines here.  You can also follow her extremely helpful twitter feed here.

Sammy Bina is a fifth year college senior, majoring in Creative Writing. She is currently querying her adult dystopian novel, THE AGE OF NEVER GROWING OLD, working on a YA paranormal romance, and interns at the Elaine P. English Literary Agency in Washington, DC. You can follow her blog, or find her on twitter.


Julie Eshbaugh is represented by Natalie Fischer of the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency. You can follow her on LiveJournal here and on Twitter here.


Agent Interview: Naomi Hackenberg

22 Jul

As a blog fiercely dedicated to helping readers understand the inner-workings of the publishing industry, we thought it might be fun to start a new series in which we interviewed literary agents we’ve had the pleasure of working with. Some of us are signed, and some have interned with agencies, and we felt that the amount of knowledge we’ve gained through these experiences should be shared with our readership as well. As gatekeepers to the industry, agents play a vital role in the road to publication. Each agent and agency does things differently, so hopefully these interviews will help you all understand what they do a little bit better, and what makes life in this industry so special! And, who knows? Maybe you’ll find an agent who could be the perfect fit for that novel you’re writing!



Introducing Naomi Hackenberg
of the Elaine P. English Literary Agency

Naomi was interviewed by one of the Elaine P. English interns, LTWF contributor Sammy Bina

LTWF: How did you come to work for Elaine P. English?

Naomi: I was moving back to D.C. after grad school and I knew I wanted to get a job in a literary agency; Elaine was simultaneously looking for a new assistant; and the rest, as they say, is history.

LTWF: When did you know you wanted to get into publishing? I know you recently became an agent yourself – how did that happen?

Naomi: When I finished undergrad, I didn’t know what I wanted to do, so I basically took the first job that came along (which was NOT in the publishing industry). After I worked for a while, I realized that I wanted to be in publishing, so I went to grad school to transition into the industry. While I was in grad school, I had an internship with a literary agency in Chicago. I loved reading query letters and submissions and observing that intersection of the industry–dealing with authors, editors, rights, etc. When I finished the internship, I knew that I wanted to get a job in an agency. I’ve been assisting Elaine with her projects and selling foreign rights for the agency for almost two years.  I’m still doing all that, but it’s been my goal since I came to the agency to represent my own projects as well, and I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to do that.

LTWF: What is it about YA that made you want to represent it? Do you think you’d ever consider representing more than just YA?

Naomi: I think the YA market inspires authors to write with unfettered imagination, and I’m continually impressed by the characters YA authors create; the questions YA authors ask; and the worlds they build.

Although I am only accepting unsolicited queries for YA and MG fiction, I do currently represent authors who write adult, young adult and middle grade fiction, and I anticipate that I’ll continue to expand representation in the future.

LTWF: What about your current clients made you want to sign them?

Naomi: They all have protagonists with whom I fell in love and hooks/ideas/premises that I feel are new/unique to the market, and they are all books that I want, passionately, to sell.

LTWF: Finish this sentence: “I would love to see more…”

Naomi: …funny books, YA mysteries, and dystopian fiction.

LTWF: What’s currently at the top of your To Be Read pile?

Naomi: My To Be Read pile is SO BIG and what’s on top is constantly changing. I’m currently in the middle of SHADE by Jeri Smith-Ready and THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO by Stieg Larsson. Other titles that I hope bubble up to the top of the pile soon are: GOING BOVINE by Libba Bray; THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE by Jandy Nelson; THE SINGER’S GUN by Emily St. Mandel; and ANNA KARANENINA by Leo Tolstoy (ok, fine: the latter’s primarily on the top of my To Be Read pile in my dreams–I’m majorly short in my classics reading and I’d like to catch up on it, but it’s hard to get those books to the top of the list).

LTWF: And now, for a non-publishy question! What do you like to do when you’re not being an agent?

Naomi: I love to read (of course), go to Nationals games, and occasionally cook elaborate meals.

Thanks for having me!


You can query Naomi via email at naomi@elaineenglish.com, or find her on twitter!


Sammy Bina is a fifth year college senior, majoring in Creative Writing. She is currently querying her dystopian romance, THE AGE OF NEVER GROWING OLD, and interns at the Elaine P. English Literary Agency in Washington, DC. You can follow her blog, or find her on twitter.

Interview with Georgia McBride, Writer and Founder of #YALitChat

7 Jul

by Savannah J. Foley


When I asked Twitter extraordinaire and pre-published YA author Georgia McBride for an interview, she responded in just the cutest way: “How could someone named Georgia say no to someone named Savannah?” An interview was born:

If you’re on Twitter you’ve probably seen her around… she’s under the moniker georgia_mcbride and hosts a weekly chat about YA genre topics under the hashtag of #YALitChat (read more about YALitChat here).

Georgia’s one cool cookie. As she states on her website, she “used to manage indie rock bands for a living, market new teen and tween (you heard me) music releases for record labels (N’SYNC, Sugar Ray, Fall Out Boy, Destiny’s Child) and produce large, complex websites along with their content, such as toysrus.com and shopping.com (an eBay company). But that seems like a lifetime ago. Fast-forward to today. Now, I write full-time.

I am an avid music lover, a songwriter and singer–though nowadays that takes place mostly in the shower and the car. When I am not writing, I am hanging out with my daughter, Girl Five-ish, my son, Two The Terrible (formerly known as Boy-Oneder) and our three Chihuahuas!”

Georgia was kind enough to take time out of her busy schedule (writing, querying, managing both #YALitChat and its community, and being a mom!) to answer a few questions for us:


When did you first hear about/join Twitter?

I can’t recall when I first learned about Twitter or joined. I only know that I tried to avoid doing so for the longest time until it became a necessary part of my life.

What inspired you to begin #YALitChat?

There didn’t seem to be a concentrated effort being made to bring together YA professionals at all levels in one space on a regular basis. A twitter chat seemed like the logical solution.

What’s the purpose/function of #YALitChat?

YALITCHAT is actually a few things. It is a weekly gathering of professionals in the young adult publishing industry on twitter–that’s the chat part. It is also a young adult book publishing industry non-profit organization created for the advancement of young adult literature around the world. Current membership is right around 1500 international members from 22 countries.

It’s certainly made an impact in the writing world; how has #YALitChat made an impact on your life?

Wow. That would take much longer than the time I’m allotted here. What started as a simple weekly chat has evolved into an international membership organization with a reach far beyond twitter. Members have utilized the chat to not only secure agent representation and improve their writing but make friends around the world. The letters and emails I receive from members who thank me for the community overwhelms me at times.

How has #YALitChat has grown/evolved?

I never imagined the community would grow as much as it has, as quickly as it has. Even with twelve volunteers, the need of more than 1500 members is great–especially when you have an international basis and an “always on” promise. We’ve gone from a weekly chat on twitter to a full-fledged non-profit organization with employees in under one year. That’s not evolution, that’s a revolution.

What’s the goal/vision for #YALitchat?

The vision for YALITCHAT has always been to be the medium by which the world sees and understands young adult literature. Through our members and their works we aim to impact readers, reduce illiteracy, reduce prejudice and stereotyping and encourage reading in teens worldwide. Did you know that in some cultures or subcultures teens are afraid to be caught reading a book? That they’d be ridiculed for it?

An announcement went out lately about the #YALitChat foundation beginning to charge for membership. Can you talk a little about why that decision was made, and what benefits it will bring?

YALITCHAT was handed what I considered a huge blow a few months ago by Ning, our technology provider, when they told us they would charge all users a fee for  their service. I was already considering charging an annual fee and to begin advertising on our site, but had thought the days of doing so were at least a year away. Ning simply hurried that process along. The service that YALITCHAT provides is really priceless, and the fact that it is always on and available is a huge plus. Members don’t have to travel to a conference and pay huge fees to attend or pay for a hotel or airfare. They have access to well-published, NY Times and USA Today best-selling authors, agents, and editors all at the click of a mouse. They have peer critique support twenty four hours a day and seven days a week. They have a team of over 50 teen beta readers who gladly give open and honest feedback. There is a panel of agents seeking out new clients and others quietly trolling the site.

Then there is the content that is mined from around the web–hand-picked for the YA market and served right to members by topic to the different groups within the community. Should it be free? I wish I could afford to pay for it so that it could remain free. But I can’t. The time that it takes to maintain that site alone is worth–well–we won’t get into that. But for anyone to think that there isn’t cost involved with meeting the needs of nearly 2,000 members in 22 countries all day, every day using a technology rich system to deliver content, security, programming, response, interactivity, etc. I’ve been bearing the cost of this alone since November 2009. I can’t see how anyone could expect me, one person, alone to pay for the cost of YALITCHAT while everyone benefits from it.

I do understand that some people do not like to have to pay for that they have previously been getting for free and when they are asked to, they feel as if they should be getting more thrown in with it. There’s nothing I can do about those few people. You can’t make everyone happy and so I won’t try. My focus is the membership base that wants to be a part of something awesome. Those people who get what YALITCHAT is and the merit of the services we offer and feel that cost of an annual membership of $30.00 per year (students are FREE) seems like a bargain. Many were shocked that the fee was so low and had braced themselves for a much higher amount. Those people are excited about the new direction and see that change is good for all of us. With the establishment of YALITCHAT as a non-profit organization in June of this year, we’ve reached yet another milestone. We are now able to offer grants, scholarships, webinars and courses (listings are on our public site to our members that we haven’t been able to do before. I’m excited about the future. Keep watching the website for more news regarding changes. Change is good.

When did you first decide to be a writer? Was there an ‘aha!’ moment or some catalyst event?

You could say that being laid off, falling into a depression and assuming I was losing my mind after hearing voices was cataclysmic. Turns out the voices were those of my characters. I started writing as fast and as often as I could, often not sleeping. The result was the first draft of PRAEFATIO. I think the original version was like 140,000 words. Thank God for revision.

A lot of writers mention their characters ‘talking’ to them, but it happens in an internal way. Were you actually hearing voices or was it the internal voice speaking to you?

I actually heard their voices externally and thought I was going crazy. My husband was ready to send me to the looney farm. Gosh I hope I haven’t offended half the world. The only way to describe it is it sounds as if there is another person in the room with you–only there isn’t.

You haven’t offended us! What draws you to YA as a genre?

I read all genres–even picture books. I have small kids. I know that I could never write a picture book. I just don’t have it in me. It would start out all cute and cuddly then some otherwordly creature would come out of the forest and sneak up on the kid and try to kill it. I don’t think parents would like that. So, I tend to write books that teens can read. And they tend to have creatures in them that you would probably not ever want to encounter–asleep or awake. Did I answer your question? I think the bottom line is, I’m spooky and cynical. Younger kids need happy. I don’t do happy.

Tell us about Praefatio!

Grace wouldn’t let me sleep until I told her story. Three long months of daily blibber-blabbering in my ear and I had to write it. No inspiration–just constant noise from my characters. Grace, Gavin and Grace’s brother Remi spoke to me constantly as I wrote.

Summary: PRAEFATIO is about a girl who is believed to be a runaway and then assumed kidnapped by an international rockstar. When she is found on his estate, half-clothed and screaming for help the police assume they have their man. But Grace has quite a compelling tale for the police–one that they cannot believe. She tells them that she is an Archangel and her alleged kidnapper, is also a fallen angel. They think she has Stockholm Syndrome–a condition which causes her to have sympathy for her captor–and is that she is delusional. She must prove that she is sane and telling the truth about hers and Gavin’s identity without upsetting the balance between Heaven and Hell in the process (or getting herself killed).

We’ve seen the beautiful trailer made for Praefatio. Did you make it or did you hire someone? How much creative control did you have over the project?

I hired the super awesome M2 Productions. I had as much creative control as I wanted but I totally gave it up to Madison of M2 Productions as I trust her completely and knew I was in great hands. I basically sent her a synopsis and first chapter and she did the rest. She’s awesome. I never would have been able to come up with anything like that on my own. I get a ton of compliments on the trailer. Give it up for Madison!

What is the plan for Praefatio? Have you signed with a literary agent or publisher, or do you plan to self-publish?

PRAEFATIO is out on submission to agents but as I understand it is bad luck to talk about it. Thus, my lips are sealed.

We totally understand! Do you have Critique Partners?

I do not have formal critique partners. I have folks that I ask to look at my stuff who whack me up side the head when need be. Usually, it’s the team from The YA-5, my team blog. http://www.theya5.com which relaunches on July 19. Those guys are brutally honest and never let me write anything that will let me look like a moron.

It seems as if you’ve started a Georgia McBride literary empire! What’s the goal for you personally?

Empire? Hardly. I stay busy. I write, I run YALITCHAT and I write some more. I also read a lot, vet for a few agents and editors. I recently started offering critique and editorial services to unpublished writers as opposed to only pros. I figure I see so much. I may as well help the people who really need it. Link for more info is here.

Despite what you say, you ARE running an empire! 😉 With all this going on, do you also have the dreaded ‘Day Job’ on top of it?

I was laid off–I think I may have stated that earlier–in 2008 from my “day job” when all of this started. The voices that is. That is when I started writing their story–PRAEFATIO. I had no idea at the time that I was writing a book. I just had no idea.

Do your children know about how active you are in the YA community? What do they think about that, and about writing books?

My kids are 6and 2. My 6 year old says I take too long to finish any one book and my editor will not like it. She also adds that she’s better than me since she is the author AND illustrator of her books.

When were you inspired to start the YA-5?

I’ve wanted to do a team blog since last year but sadly, no one wanted to join me then. This year when I put the call out, it was a different story.

What’s the goal for the YA-5? How has it made an impact on your life?

The YA-5 is blog focused on teens–how they think, what they want and who they are. I think we are writers for teens tend to put up blogs that focus on us and our writer friends who are our age. We don’t focus on our teen audience. The YA-5 seeks to change all of that. We don’t want to tell teens what to read or think. We want them to tell us. We are actively engaged with teens and are blogging about it reporter style as The YA-5. Of course, we bring the perspective of each of our personalities into it so that’s what makes it unique. Does that make sense? We’ve had some growing pains and have taken a few weeks off for the summer but we re-launch on July 19.

Do you have plans for your next book?

I’ve been writing 2 books but as for which one is THE next ONE, I can’t tell at the moment. Neither of them has really grabbed me in the way that PRAEFATIO has. I suppose I will have to let the characters speak for themselves.

Where do you write? A desk, the couch, in bed?

I write anywhere I can as I have a dedicated home office with a desktop as well as a laptop. Sometimes I take my laptop outside and write on the back deck. It all depends on the mood, the weather and how much time I have. I’ve even written while waiting in line at carpool to pick up my daughter.

Who is your hero/mentor?

I always talk about JJ Abrams. I suppose I sound like a broken record. I learn from him every time I see his work. I take notes. It feels like school to me. It’s exciting and engaging and fun the way that learning about something you love should be. I appreciate that about him.


Favorite author?

Judy Blume, Anne Rice

Favorite book?

Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret

Favorite ice cream flavor?


Favorite drink?


Favorite season?


Favorite relaxation activity?


Favorite TV show?

Grey’s Anatomy

Favorite child? Just kidding!

Sam Jones-God rest his soul. Our beloved beagle who died in 2006.

If you could be any famous person from history, who would you be?

Princess Diana

If you could be any literary character, who would you be?

Too many to choose from. Sorry about that.

Favorite band/singer?


Favorite song?

The Prayer by Andrea Bocelli

Thank you so much for joining us today! We really appreciated getting to know you better!

And now, for our readers, we have a special surprise… Georgia has agreed to let us share an excerpt of Praefatio!!!





Continue reading

Memoir Or Novel? Author Laura Manivong Talks About this Crucial Decision

6 Jul

by Julie Eshbaugh


True events have inspired you to write a great story.  Do you write a memoir or a novel?  Author Laura Manivong, whose novel Escaping the Tiger was published by HarperCollins in March of 2010, had to answer this question herself, and recently discussed how she made her decision with Julie Eshbaugh of Let the Words Flow.

LTWF: Could you tell our readers a bit about your book and how you came to write it?

Laura Manivong: My husband is a refugee from Laos and had a very trying upbringing, but what struck me about his many stories was his ability to hang onto hope even in the most dire circumstances. That’s what I wanted to share with people. So when I finally realized I wanted to write children’s literature, I wrote this story as a picture book, because I was green enough to think that’s the bulk of what children’s writers did. I wasn’t even familiar with the phrase “young adult literature.” (Yes, I’ll admit ANYthing in an interview!) I submitted it on my own to a few editors and got nice feedback that the story was very powerful and well written, but the protagonist was too old for a picture book. That’s when I decided I had to learn to write a novel, which has different challenges than a picture book, but is certainly no easier.

Author Laura Manivong
Author Laura Manivong

LTWF: Did you always feel called to write?  Did you assume you would write fiction?  How did Escaping the Tiger fit in with (or maybe challenge) your plans for yourself as a writer?

LM: During my childhood, I don’t remember being called to write. I never kept a journal or diary or wrote poems on scraps of paper, but writing for school projects came fairly easily. In college, professors told I needed to keep writing. Write what, I thought. My degree was Electronic Media, a natural progression from my love of photography, but the idea of being a novelist never entered my brain. Gradually things begin to click, though. When I spent a summer after college in Arizona volunteering for the National Park Service, I’d send letters home, the old fashioned kind that were written on paper, not a computer. Friends told me they’d share my letters with others, which was odd but also a bit exciting. Through my work in TV, I won an Emmy, not for video production, but for writing. And when I woke one day with a very surreal sort of poem composed in my head, that’s when I enrolled in my first creative writing class, around age 30, especially since people who’d heard my husband’s story kept telling me I should write a book.

LTWF: Since Escaping the Tiger is inspired by true events, did you ever consider writing it as non-fiction/memoir?

LM: I wrote my very first drafts as non-fiction. But the holes in my knowledge and my husband’s memory were too big. Plus his story of strife and upheaval started in first grade and continued well into his twenties. It was too much time to cover in any book I imagined myself writing, so that’s when I knew it had to be fiction.

Escping the Tiger by Laura Manivong

LTWF: What ultimately convinced you that the story would be best served as a novel, rather than as a memoir?

LM: I think my biggest problem was trying to create a sequence of events that would continue to rise in tension as the story progressed. My husband’s life story is a series of peaks and valleys, from being held in the prisoner-of-war “reeducation” camps in northern Laos during his elementary years, to his family’s escape across the Mekong as a fifth grader, to his tween years living illegally in Thailand and working in a factory to his eventual journey to America when he was 19.

LTWF: What special issues/challenges do you think you dealt with considering your story was based in fact?  How did you deal with these challenges?

LM: I was concerned I wouldn’t accurately portray the experience for people who lived through it. I’d never been to Laos, or a refugee camp, so my husband was my primary source for all the little details that make a story ring true, from lizards on the ceiling to mosquitoes in the latrines. My MO was to pester my husband anytime I was writing a scene, whether he was engrossed in his favorite TV show or sleeping (or so he claims)! And when he would read drafts where I described the layout of Na Pho refugee camp, his memory and my imagination would clash. “There were no trees by the processing building,” he’d tell me. “But my character needs to hide behind it when he steals a mango,” I’d say, and that’s when I really relied on the fiction element to advance the story.

LTWF: Did anyone ever encourage you to consider “the market” in deciding whether to write the story as a novel versus as a memoir?  Do you think the market might have received the book differently if you had written a memoir?

LM: I wrote the bulk of this story before I ever considered approaching professionals with it so I didn’t seek any advice on how to write it. I was too busy muddling through the process to even think about the market. That would have been a mistake for me, anyway. It’s too easy to get caught up in trends and trying to time what’s hot and what’s not. That kind of research is the fastest way to suck up valuable writing time, and the writing must come first.

LTWF: What method did you use to build the story?  Did you talk to various relatives and then borrow from the different memories, or did you just take what you knew of your husband’s story and create fiction from there?

LM: All through our marriage, my husband has shared vignettes about his life. A handful of those appear in Escaping The Tiger and are fairly close to the truth. And for details outside my husband’s experiences, I talked with family and friends and read a book written by the father of my husband’s best friend: I LITTLE SLAVE, A PRISON MEMOIR FROM COMMUNIST LAOS. The author, Bounsang Khamkeo, held nothing back in sharing the most painful memories imaginable, and this information was priceless in crafting the backstory for one of my characters, Colonel.

During the revision process, my editor told me something that’s quite liberating when writing a story like mine, based on real people but mostly fiction. She said “just because it happens a certain way in real life doesn’t mean it belongs in your story.”

LTWF: Have you ever felt that those who lived the story were at all “offended” by any fictionalization?

LM: Some people have asked which character is based on which real-life person. And many people ask what happened to one character in particular, so I think there is sometimes confusion on how much is fact and how much is fiction. My editor was so insightful to have me include an afterword that helps to differentiate between my husband’s story and that of Vonlai’s, my protagonist. And so far, no one has been offended by my fictionalization, but the Lao people are far too gracious to say so even if there is something that doesn’t ring true to their experiences. People seem very happy to have a part of their story told. We hear so much about Vietnam that Laos feels like a forgotten country, even though it is the most bombed land on the planet. And the main theme of hanging on to hope even in the worst of times is something to which all readers can relate, whether they’ve ever been displaced from their homes or not.

Manivong Family, Na Pho Refugee Camp
Manivong Family, Na Pho Refugee Camp

LTWF: Final question!  What are your plans for future projects?  Are you anxious to write more fact-based fiction?  Or do you see yourself heading in a different direction?

LM: I’m currently finishing a paranormal novel that has an element of fact in it: the reintroduction of the Mexican Gray Wolf to its homeland in the desert Southwest after it was eradicated to make room for cattle. A tremendous amount of carnage, from trappings to poisonings to shooting to bludgeoning, was inflicted on these animals, which are top predators who have a very sophisticated hierarchy and serve a valuable role in weeding out weak prey to keep nature in balance. But today, ranchers livelihoods are at stake as well, so the novel addresses issues of balance. And the story also centers on a rough and tumble heroine, a cowboy, a biker hottie, a banshee and lots of general creepiness from swarming rattlesnakes to haunted homesteads. And when I told a group of eight graders during a school visit the tentative title, I got a collective “ooooh!” That’s motivation right there!

Thank you, Laura, for sharing your insight into the essential question of “Memoir or Novel?”  To learn more about Escaping the Tiger, you can watch the book trailer here, and you can learn more about Laura Manivong and her writing here.




Julie Eshbaugh is represented by Natalie Fischer of the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency. You can follow her on LiveJournal here and on Twitter here.


The Supernatural Tour Giveaway!

31 May

by Vanessa Di Gregorio


Hey all, it’s me again!

Today we’re going to do something different: we’re going to give away a signed copy of a book! Because every once in a while, it’s nice to take a little break from writing to read. After all, there is nothing better than reading to help inspire you.

Last Thursday, I attended an event called “The Supernatural Tour” in Toronto. There were author readings, a Q+A session, a pretty cool swag bag, an author signing session, and… oh, yes. Three authors!

The Supernatural Tour

Having multiple authors was great (because how often do you get to hear three individual authors read from their new books and talk about writing, all in the same night?). I had the pleasure of meeting three extraordinary ladies: fellow Torontonian Lesley Livingston, Aprilynn Pike, and Kim Harrison. They bounced around ideas and had such great chemistry together; it was really great seeing them joke around and voice their differences.

So, just who are these women?

Me with Lesley Livingston
Lesley Livingston is the author of the CLA award-winning, and Quill & Quire Best Book of the Year WONDROUS STRANGE. Lesley is a writer and actor living in Toronto, Canada, and her second novel, DARKLIGHT, is also out in stores. I had the wonderful opportunity to see the cover of the third novel in the Wondrous Strange trilogy!

Me with Aprilynne Pike
Aprilynn Pike is the author of the #1 New York Times best-selling debut, WINGS. It is the first of four books about a seemingly ordinary girl with a not-so-ordinary destiny, and – get this! – the film rights to WINGS have been optioned to Disney! Not bad for a debut author!

Me with Kim Harrison

Kim Harrison is the best-selling author of the adult series THE HOLLOWS, which is now on it’s eighth book! She is also the author of a new YA series, the first book being ONCE DEAD, TWICE SHY. She decided to write a YA series because she found her love of reading with YA fiction as a young girl.

So, with these three women in the room with me, I obviously had to jot down some of the things they talked about!

How They Plot:

Lesley Livingston’s WONDROUS STRANGE series was always a a three-act structure in her mind. But when she got her book deal, it was for a two-book deal. Since then, they’ve asked her to make it a trilogy, which works perfectly for Lesley: she had always imagined it as a trilogy! So for her, it was plotted out right from the beginning.

For Aprilynne Pike, she plotted by series – much like Lesley did. Her WINGS series has always been a close-ended four-book series, and she plotted out the entire series together. It seems she has always had it planned out entirely!

Kim Harrison, on the other hand, talked about how she plots one book at a time; she doesn’t plot out the entire series (such as her series THE HOLLOWS). She also said that THE HOLLOWS is the longest trilogy she has ever written! Her books just had a life of their own, it seems!

Best Job in the World?

Someone during the Q+A session asked all three ladies what it was like having writing as their day job.

Kim Harrison described it perfectly: “It’s a miserable, wonderful, fabulous job”. Her day starts with her doing an hour and a half to two hours doing PR work (maintaining her website, Facebook, blog, etc). And when she starts writing, she writes until 7:00 pm, with only a half hour lunch break. But she loves every minute of it, even though it isn’t an “easy” job.

Aprilynne shared Kim’s sentiments in many ways. For her, being a writer is the best job in the world. But she was quick to remind us all that just because one becomes published, it doesn’t mean it gets easier. For her second book, she whipped it out – and her husband had enough courage to tell her it needed work. But even with so much time devoted to writing and rewriting, being a published author is a dream come true. Having her first book in the hands of so many readers feels like she won the lottery.

For Lesley, being an author gave her the excuse to write down the voices in her head. She loves that people no longer think she’s a lunatic (although I doubt anyone ever thought she was!). Winning awards was one of the most exciting and wonderful things about becoming a published author. She also thinks that it’s wonderful hearing from people who’ve read her books and have her characters living in their heads too. And one of the amazing things about her journey to publication? When she was contracted for her WONDROUS STRANGE series, she had only sent 5 sample chapters with an 8 page synopsis. Which is incredibly rare in fiction, to be taken on with just a proposal!

Giveaway Time!

So while at this event, I was able to pick up signed copies of one of each author’s books. This giveaway is for a signed copy of Kim Harrison’s YA novel ONCE DEAD, TWICE SHY. Here is the synopsis from Goodreads:

Once Dead, Twice Shy

“My name is Madison Avery, and I’m here to tell you that there’s more out there than you can see, hear, or touch. Because I’m there. Seeing it. Touching it. Living it.”

Madison’s prom was killer—literally. For some reason she’s been targeted by a dark reaper—yeah, that kind of reaper—intent on getting rid of her, body and soul. But before the reaper could finish the job, Madison was able to snag his strange, glowing amulet and get away.

Now she’s stuck on Earth—dead but not gone. Somehow the amulet gives her the illusion of a body, allowing her to toe the line between life and death. She still doesn’t know why the dark reaper is after her, but she’s not about to just sit around and let fate take its course.

With a little ingenuity, some light-bending, and the help of a light reaper (one of the good guys! Maybe . . . ), her cute crush, and oh yeah, her guardian angel, Madison’s ready to take control of her own destiny once and for all, before it takes control of her.

Well, if she believed in that stuff.

How to enter:
This contest is open internationally. All you need to do is leave a comment to be entered in the contest. For extra entries, you can do any (or all!) of the following:

+1 for following LTWF on Twitter (add your twitter name to your comment so I know you’re following)
+2 for following this blog (RSS feed) – let us know if you do!
+1 for sharing this contest on Twitter – add @LTWF when you share it (again, let us know your twitter account name in the comments!)
+1 for sharing this contest on your blog – just be sure to leave a link/ your twitter name (so that we know who you are, and how you’re sharing it!)

The contest ends at noon EST on Friday, June 11th. The winner will be picked at random, and will be announced on Saturday, June 12th.

Good luck (and be on the lookout for future giveaways)!


Vanessa is a Sales Assistant at Kate Walker & Co., a book and gift sales agency located in Toronto. She is also enrolled in a publishing program. Currently, Vanessa is working on a YA fantasy novel and a Children’s non-fiction series.

Author Interview – Leah Cypess

13 May

by Vanessa Di Gregorio


Hey all!

So today it’s my pleasure to introduce to you author Leah Cypess! Her debut YA fantasy novel, MISTWOOD, was just released earlier this month; and so far, it’s been getting rave reviews! I highly suggest you check it out. She’s even got a blurb for MISTWOOD from author Megan Whaler Turner, whose novel, THE QUEEN OF ATTOLIA, is a favorite of Leah’s (and is another book I suggest you check out). Now if that isn’t just icing on the cake for a debut author, I don’t know what is!


Vanessa:  Thanks so much, Leah, for joining us – and congrats on having your first novel published! How does it feel?

Leah: It feels great!  This is a goal I’ve been working toward for a very long time, and every little step along the way has been incredibly exciting.  Walking into a bookstore and seeing my book on my shelves was a surreal moment.

V: Your novel, Mistwood, is now in stores. Tell us a bit about it.

L: Mistwood is the story of an ancient shapeshifter bound by a spell to protect the kings of a certain dynasty. And of a confused girl found in a forest who is told she is that ancient shapeshifter, even though she can’t remember anything about her past. Possibly they’re the same story… possibly not. She’ll have to figure it out while protecting the current prince, navigating his intrigue-filled court, and making sure nobody finds out that she has lost both her memory and her powers.

V:  I read that you were a publishing house slush pile pick! What was that experience like? How long did it take to hear back?

L: With Greenwillow, the experience was fantastic and incredibly fast.  I had previously submitted a different manuscript to my current editor, Martha Mihalick, and she had emailed me a very nice rejection letter saying that she liked the manuscript, explaining why she wouldn’t acquire it, and inviting me to send my next book.  Mistwood was already finished, so I sent her a query with the first three chapters.  She emailed me within a month asking me to email (not snail mail!) the rest of the manuscript; and then she emailed me 7 days later to say that she loved it and was going to pass it around to the other editors at the imprint.  Less than a month after that, I had an unofficial offer.

V: Are you considering getting an agent now? Did you ever wish during the publication process that you had one? Why did you decide to forgo one in the first place?

L: I got an agent as soon as I received the unofficial offer, because let’s face it — I had been trying to get published for years, and now HarperCollins wanted to buy my book?  I would have sold it to them for a couple of free movie passes.  I was aware that’s not the best frame of mind for entering negotiations, so I told my editor I would want to get an agent to negotiate the contract.  They recommended Bill Contardi of Brandt & Hochman, who had previously sold them Silver Phoenix by Cindy Pon, another YA high fantasy.  Even though I had already verbally accepted the offer and thus not left him much wiggle-room, Bill negotiated a great contract for me.

I originally decided to forgo an agent 15 years ago, when I started submitting my writing to publishers.  At that time, the other writers on various listserves I belonged to were split down the middle as to whether it was better to go with agents or submit directly to editors.  By now, I think, the consensus has come down more on the agent side.  (Months after signing my contract, I found out through the grapevine that Mistwood was one of the only unagented manuscripts my editor had ever acquired.)

Right before I submitted Mistwood, I decided to switch tracks and try the agent route instead.  I had sent 3 previous manuscripts exclusively to editors, and each of them got positive responses — at least one revision request per manuscript, multiple requests to send my next manuscript, two trips to the acquisition committee — but no sale.  It seemed like I was almost there but somehow not managing to bridge that final gap of getting the right manuscript to the right editor at the right time, and I thought an agent could help.  So I sent queries to 10 carefully-researched agents, and got 10 immediate form rejection letters.  Even though ten agents is not a lot, by this time I was getting requests for fulls on at least half of the queries I sent to editors; and I realized that by switching over to agents, I was essentially throwing away the 15 years of credibility I had built up with various editors.  (I also considered the possibility that maybe Mistwood just wasn’t as marketable as my other books.  But Greenwillow was one of the first imprints I sent it to, and they expressed immediate interest.)

V: How did you research to determine if you were getting a fair deal or not with your novel?

L: Like I said, I wasn’t going to haggle over price; I had already unofficially accepted the offer.  With respect to the specific terms of the contract, I read the contract in its entirety, checking it against SFWA and SCBWI’s contract guides.

V: Would you recommend that other writers follow your path to publication or not, and why?

L: I honestly don’t know.  Obviously, my path worked out very well for me, but there were also a lot of frustrations along the way — among other things, if you have an agent, publishers will usually get back to you faster than if you are a lone writer.  On the other hand, I’ve been told that getting an agent can be just as difficult as getting an offer from a publisher, and once you’re past that hurdle you still have to go on submission to editors — two rounds of anxiety instead of one. So I would encourage writers to think about the pros and cons of each path and make an informed decision.

V: I saw in the bio of your website that you studied biology and law by mostly your mother’s guidance. Do you feel regret for the years spent studying and building a career in a “safe” field for the sake of being, as your mother put it, practical?

L: I regret studying biology; I never used any of that knowledge, I’ve forgotten a lot of it, and since I was always terrible at lab work, it made my college experience much less pleasant than it could have been.  I really wish I had studied history instead.  I’ve always been interested in history and I think it is incredibly important.

I don’t regret studying law.  I found law school incredibly fun, for the most part.  The analytical thinking used in legal research is something I really enjoy, plus I took a lot of non-practical but interesting courses involving constitutional philosophy and social issues.  Working at a law firm was grueling, but also a good experience (now that it’s over!); plus, the money I earned gave me the ability to write full time after I quit.

V: What do you enjoy most about writing? Do you have any writing must-haves for inspiration?

L: What I enjoy most are those times when I get an idea and it just flows — the words coming so fast that I’m scribbling to keep up with my characters.  I don’t have any writing must-haves; this is a good thing, since I’ve done a lot of my writing in random places like the playground or the subway.

V: Are you working on another project? Could you tell us a bit about it?

L: I’m working on a companion book to Mistwood, set to be published in 2011.  I can’t tell you about it, unfortunately, because I’m deep in revisions and don’t want to accidentally set anything in stone. 🙂

V: I guess we’ll just have to wait and be patient then! Okay, last question. If you could travel back in time, when (and where) would you go?

L: This answer will change depending on what I’m researching at the time.  Right now, I’d love to see what 12th-century Jerusalem looked like, or get a peek at 16th-century Venice. (As a tourist in a protected bubble, I hasten to add!)

V: Thanks so much Leah!


Vanessa is a Sales Assistant at Kate Walker & Co., a book and gift sales agency located in Toronto. She is also enrolled in a publishing program. Currently, Vanessa is working on a YA fantasy novel and a Children’s non-fiction series.


Leah Cypess is the author of MISTWOOD. She lives in Brookline, Massachusetts with her husband and two daughters. You can follow her on Twitter, Goodreads or check out her site.